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Dear Meredyth,

In the last 3 days I have traveled up and down Botswana, covering over 1000kilometers, impressive and draining. Yesterday, when I finally walked in the door it felt like a huge relief to drop my bags, get out of my dusty, sweaty, (smelly) clothing, and sit in the cool silence of my little house. Travel in Botswana is such a love/hate thing; anytime I am asked to leave my village I have to run a cost-benefit analysis. Factors to consider are: length of travel time, number of bus changes, cost of each bus, weather, and most importantly, the potential fun to be had at the end destination. If it’s heavy on the travel, it must have big fun because I loathe bus rides.

After a long internal debate and many cost-benefit analyses, I said “eff it” and traveled up to Tsodillo Hills with two of my friends. It was worth every minute of travel, every bum/neck pain from sitting on buses, and all the sore muscles from climbing every rock I could in Tsoldillo.

The four hills, a man, woman (she’s actually two hills, get it?) and child, are deep in the northeastern corner of Botswana, rising up out of seemingly nowhere in the great expanse of desert.  Tsodillio Hills is a place of myths and spiritual significance, especially for the San people who call them “the mountains of the gods”. There are more than 2750 ancient rock paintings at 250 different sites in the hills; it became a UN World Heritage site in 2010. Did I feel like an explorer uncovering ancient mysteries while dangerously scaling up cliffs? Sure did.

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My traveling companions and I arranged for a safari guide to pick us up at a bus stop to drive us another 3 hours (we rode in the back of an open safari car) to the campsite at Tsodillo Park. We were really stiff from all the sitting so our guide, Lucky, told us to for a hike with a trail guide and he would stay behind to set up camp. We spent the late afternoon walking around masadimogolo hill (setswana for old lady). Did you know that I have a secret talent for climbing things? I do. When we stopped to look at paintings along the trail, I could only stand still for a moment before I would ditch the history lesson to climb the old rocks. I was really pretty proud of my new found talent at first, but I was seriously taken aback when one of my traveling companions, a 68-year-old woman with a bum knee, scaled each rock just as high.

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Soon this was our game, I would climb as high and fast as I possibly could, look down and taunt to Jan “I have the higher ground!” In Jedi meaning, this meant that I had won. She would then slowly, but surely climb her way up, crushing my ego with each rock she nimbly leapt over.

We made it back to camp just as the sun was setting over the flat desert. While we were traipsing around the hills, Lucky had been hard at work back at the camp. We arrived to three fully erected tents, each with a cot, bed made with a towel folded on top, a table set for us, and a big dinner cooked over the fire. Luxury camping?

Lucky worked in the kitchen at a four star lodge in Kasane, so the man can cook. We were so hungry by that time it was hard to eat slow enough to really enjoy it but we managed. He made a great cream of potato soup with bay leaves; despite my intolerance to dairy I couldn’t resist eating it (I survived). Next he served us curry chicken over jasmine rice; it was equally delicious and gone from our plated in a matter of moments. It was exactly what you want to eat on a cool night in the desert when your body feels achy and elated at the same time.

For dessert we roasted marshmallows that Jan had bought in town earlier that day. Side note, marshmallows in Batswana rule, they sell them in different flavors, strawberry, litchi, apple, coconut, and my favorite, ginger bread flavored.

I really think a vacation like this is needed every few months. I am adjusting to my life in Botswana, I feel productive more often than I feel lazy, I feel happy more often than resentful, so that’s a big step. But I needed this trip to really remind me just how lucky I am right now. There is so much beauty here to experience and there are so many amazing people to have those experiences with, how did I luck out like this?

So in close, I miss you, lots and lots and lots, but I’m doing just fine.

All my love,

Julia

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